The shooting by James Hodgkinson, wounding majority whip Steve Scalise, a Republican congressmen enjoying baseball practice, was a terrible thing. The editorial in the New York Times explaining its significance was a terrible thing as well.
The former was an act of violence by a twisted man who, based on his ranting, hated Trump and Republicans. This is ordinarily when the Times would whip out the word “terrorism,” to inflame without informing. But not this time.
An American would once have been horrified and shocked by such savagery. An American today would be right to be horrified — and not very surprised.
The lead-in is fairly obvious, that violence, savagery as they call it, is now normal, which leads inexorably to the question, “why?” How did savagery become commonplace in America? There are a great many answers to this question, and no answer. But there is one response that isn’t an answer because it’s a lie.
Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.
There is a preliminary aspect to this paragraph that demands mention. Here, Republican congressmen were targeted by a Trump-hater. This isn’t how the world happens in the progressive fantasy, where they’re on the side of love and tolerance while the other side is violent, mean and hateful. Their team is good, except the shooter here was on their team, a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer and the guy who posted on social media, “Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
This doesn’t reflect progressives, per se, any more than a violent nutjob on the other team reflects conservatives. Each side has its crazies, which speaks more about crazies than sides. But since this conflicts with the narrative, that one side is comprised of a better breed of humanity than the other, the obvious must be diffused. And so, the Times goes after Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting of Gabby Giffords, and blames Sarah Palin’s map as the impetus. This way, even the Hodgkinson shooting of Republicans can be traced back to evil conservatives, and the other team is cleansed of its sin.
Except the Palin map story is false. Axios did a round-up of reactions to the Times editorial on the night before its publication:
The piece drew comment from different media outlets on Twitter
- CNN host Jake Tapper: “even way back in Jan 2011 we knew that Loughlin’s obsession began 3 years before the Palin map.
- WSJ editorial Editor James Taranto: “Unbelievable. The Times is still peddling this despicable lie”
- New York Post commentary Editor John Podhoretz: “The NYT editorial falsely claims Loughner shot Giffords due to a target on a photo. It’s not yet 11. They can change it. Let’s see.”
- MSNBC host Chris Hayes: “Let me chime here to say: yeah, that’s nuts.”
- Mother Jones senior editor Ben Dreyfuss:”This NYT editorial is, in fact, stupid. Palin didn’t make that loon shoot Gabby Giffords. “Rhetoric” didn’t make today’s whacko shoot either”
- National Review Online Editor Charles Cooke: “This editorial is an unconscionable disgrace and the Times should be ashamed. Its editorial board is a joke.”
As Axios explains, the “issue” isn’t that the Times’ editorial spread “fake news,” but that spreading “fake news” exposes “main stream” or “liberal” media to castigation.
Why it matters: The partisan pull that The Times’ editorial says has gripped the country will only get worse with this piece, as it gives conservatives fuel to bash the “mainstream,” “liberal,” and “elite” media for arguably overstating a key element of their argument.
What’s lacking is factual integrity, and a concern that factual integrity is a sufficient virtue in itself to be worthy of redress. The Times editorial contained a flagrantly false assertion. Mistakes happen, particularly when someone inclined to partisan pull is pressed to write quickly. The Times no longer has a Public Editor to make its weekly apologies. When Mother Jones calls it “stupid,” it must be really stupid.
But note that, as John Podhoretz pointed out, there was still time to fix the editorial, to correct it so that the falsehood was removed. The Times had the opportunity to edit its editorial so that the dead-tree paper wouldn’t contain the lie.
This morning, the editorial remains as first written. The lie is intact.
We’re awash with unduly passionate partisans on both sides, lazy and stupid, but loud and tenacious. They are not shooters, although they have bike locks, baseball bats and approve of punching people with whom they disagree. Shooters, though, are a different type of crazy, unlike pedestrian violence that will harm, but not kill. The person who seeks to take another person’s life may be guided in his choice of target by the lure of ideology, but acts because of personal sickness.
The use of false claims to further inflame partisanship, to feed the fury and ignorance, may not drive anyone to kill, but it pollutes the polity. The New York Times is spreading a lie. It had the opportunity to fix its editorial, and chose not to do so, knowing full well that it was spreading a lie. At this point, it can only be explained as deliberate.
Whether one is in agreement with, or sympathetic to, the New York Times’ partisan take on the world shouldn’t matter. There are usually thoughtful points to be made in favor of different views on any issue. But there is no place for lies in the debate, and the Times’ failure to correct, to remove, this lie is intolerable. No partisan fervor justifies spreading flagrant lies, no matter who does the spewing.
Update: A day late and a few dollars short, since everyone already read the editorial, the paper was printed and delivered, and only then does this appear:
Correction: June 15, 2017
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.
In fact, they knowingly and deliberately published a lie. An hour, day, year from now, this will appear as if they made a little oopsie and then corrected themselves. “Sorry, we bad.” But it’s not true.
The mechanisms of a daily paper are such that everybody reads the original editorial, and few read the correction. Even if they do, the original has already established its place in one’s head and affected one’s thought. The damage is done. The damage is not undone by this connection. It’s only there to create a second lie for the sake of history, that the Times didn’t do exactly what it did.